Let us count the ways Donald Trump lies. He lies about the crowd size at his own inauguration, but that isn’t enough. His lies are so transparent that he stages a fake crowd of stooge supporters at the CIA to applaud his own lies about the crowd. In another country, which Trump rather admires, you’d call this a Potemkin village. But this took place at the CIA, which Trump previously accused of recreating Nazi Germany because they were investigating his Russian dependencies.
Trump lies about the big stuff and the small stuff alike. He lies about the weather at his own inauguration. As if the weather, and all its divinely ordained raindrops, were some running commentary on his lack of legitimacy. As if we couldn’t watch the rain falling on his fake tan on television. He lies about releasing his tax returnsafter the IRS audit is complete. He lies about making Mexico pay for his monstrous wall on the southern border. And these are only some of his most frequent lies.
He lies about losing the popular vote in November by almost 3 million Americans, claiming instead that a miraculously identical number of votes came from undocumented immigrants. There was of course no such vast conspiracy, and all the congressional leaders who heard his fantasies over dinner know this too. Otherwise their own elections would be in question, a case most succinctly made by the lawyers of one Donald Trump, as they tried to quash the recount after his own election. “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 election was not tainted by fraud,” they wrote in their filing to block the recount in Michigan.
All this would be laughable if Trump were still a private citizen engaging in pre-dawn tweet storms. Instead, he’s the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military and the chief executive of a vast federal government with a global reach. He can dispatch his press secretary, a formerly sane Republican hack, to lie on his behalf from the press room podium about crowd size and illegal voters. Sean Spicer may claim that nobody has the facts, or that people can disagree about the facts. He may claim the president has “studies and evidence” to back up his fabrications. By doing so, Trump and Spicer are destroying not just their own credibility but the good name of the presidency.
And we’re not even a week into this presidency.
Some commentators have suggested that Trump is intentionally targeting the facts so as to manipulate American public opinion for his own ends. Others have suggested that Trump voters were smart enough to take him seriously but not literally. The truth may be much simpler and sadder. Trump’s grotesque neediness is an entirely opportunistic enterprise, not an ideological one. There is no grand plan like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which is now thankfully the best-selling book on Amazon.com. There is no winking at the American heartland about what’s real and what’s just designed to shock the liberal elites. There is just an obese ego masking a tiny level of competence and intelligence.
How else can you explain Trump’s assertion, at the CIA, that he is a smart man because his uncle taught at MIT? You don’t need to be an intelligence analyst to figure out what’s going wrong under the comb-over. “I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics,” he told the fake crowd at the CIA. “In fact, every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at MIT for 35 years who did a fantastic job in so many different ways, academically – was an academic genius – and then they say, is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart persona.”
He’s like a smart persona, only less so.
The dangers of the Trump delusions are clear. The first concern is not about public opinion and propaganda campaigns. Trump can praise Fox News all he likes, but the media is too competitive to roll over. If CNN’s communications team can puncture the presidential bubble, it shouldn’t be too hard for the nation’s newsrooms. No, the real risk lies within Trump’s Oval Office, where the executive power bestowed upon him is easily manipulated by conspiracies and plots emanating from Trump himself, his inner circle, the internet, or his besties inside the Kremlin.
He can ban refugees from Muslim countries based on fear and racism, denying urgent humanitarian needs for thousands of women and children. He can gag officials at the Environmental Protection Agency on climate change, which he bizarrely thinks is a hoax perpetrated by China for commercial gain. This isn’t the usual political spin or question-dodging. Most politicians look positively professional compared to this president, who appears not to know that the world is laughing at his lies.
Any elected official or foreign leader needs to think twice about humouring this man. Videos of politicians cosying up to a pathological narcissist is going to end careers prematurely. Theresa May should consider what her own voters in Britain will think of her – the poodle prime minister to Vladimir Putin’s poodle?
Trump is apparently angry at media suggestions that he might be less than popular, and his staff finds this demoralising. They hate the notion that Trump may seem illegitimate and are determined to fight back. This is all a bit rich coming from a man who spent the last several years stoking racist fires by questioning the birth and legitimacy of Barack Obama. It’s also a self-fulfilling fear. The more Trump worries about his legitimacy, the more he lies. The more he lies, the less legit he looks.
Trump is not a con man, as some have suggested. That implies he has some competence at confidence tricks. Instead he’s just a cheap huckster, travelling from camera to camera promoting a busted product: himself.